Posted on 3 Comments

Thin or Thick Corset Profiles: Comparing Silhouettes and Cross Section

How many of you have stood in front of the mirror while wearing a corset, admiring the narrowness of your waist – and then you turn to the side and find that your profile leaves something to be desired?

“With and Without a Corset” by Liz (The Pragmatic Costumer). Click through to read her post!

Everyone knows that wearing a corset nips in the side of the waist (at the obliques), giving you the illusion of a more narrow waist. And the interesting thing is that a corset can also do this without really reducing the waist at all: where a cross section of your torso is usually oval or ellipse shaped (wider from side-to-side than it is front-to-back), a corset makes it more into a circle – simply by placing pressure on the body bilaterally (on either side of the body), and allowing that volume to distribute more front-to-back. Liz from the Pragmatic Costumer wrote about this in more detail a few years ago on her blog.

The downside that some corset wearer’s see, especially if they naturally have a more flat abdomen, is that a corset often makes you look wider in the profile than you did without the corset – this is due to the redistribution of your flesh, combined with the thickness of the corset as well (you’re a couple of inches smaller underneath your corset).

Your Corset Profile can have Two Shapes:

For simplicity’s sake, there are two main ways the front of the corset can look – it can be totally flat, or it can be “dished” or curved to create a more concave front. The Victorians were known for their dished-front corsets and sometimes exaggerated lower tummy pooch (likely more exaggerated in medical illustrations and fashion plates than in real life) but the lower pooch was actually considered attractive and womanly at the time.

But with the popularity of the straight-fronted S-bend corsets at the turn of the century, you can see that it resulted in the illusion of even more dramatically nipped waists, as the majority of the volume was coming off of the sides and little to none in the front. Arguably, if you were to take an Edwardian corset and a Victorian corset with the same waist size, the Edwardian might look more nipped in in the front view but thicker in the profile view.


Early 1900s illustration showing the difference between the Victorian “dished front” corset on the left, and the Edwardian “straight front” corset on the right (causing a forward-leaning posture).
Late 1800s artist’s guess as to what is happening inside of the body when wearing a Victorian style corset, likely as part of Edwardian propaganda to promote the S-bend “Health” corset.
We now know from modern imaging that this hypothesis was incorrect (the liver is not pushed down by the corset).

I should give a disclaimer here: whichever corset you personally find “prettier”, there is no universal right or wrong way that a corset should be (despite the Edwardian propaganda above). Some people like the concave dished front, while others like an extremely flat and rigid front. It often comes down to the corset maker’s aesthetic, combined with the natural body type you have, the effect you’re striving for in a corset (including how much waist reduction), and what you personally find comfortable.

So the “dished vs straight” debate is not only subjective, but it’s also conditional.

This isn’t my xray, but it looked very similar to this. Normally my neck is slightly lordotic (normal) but in this particular corset, my posture completely changed. Photo: e-Health Hall.

It also depends on the posture you want to achieve. The straight-fronted, S-bend corsets had a habit of thrusting the body into an overcorrected posture – they weren’t slumping, but they were also flexing their lower back in an unnatural way. When I had X-rays done of myself while wearing various corsets, my chiropractor found that rigid-fronted, Edwardian-inspired corsets encouraged a very unnatural, kyphotic neck curve in my body. The corset pushed my chest forward, and my shoulders and hips back, which forced my head to come forward as a counter-balance. In some people, this might eventually lead to neck strain, pain, cervicogenic headaches, etc.

Meanwhile, when I wore a more Victorian style corset, it allowed me to maintain a more neutral posture and my spine was in a more natural alignment. So, just because a corset gives you a flat front does not mean you have necessarily have a healthy posture.


A couple notes on terminology before we start comparing corsets – I’ll be using layman’s terms here as much as possible:
so when I say “cross section” that means the transverse plane,
when I say “profile” that means the sagittal plane,
and when I say “front view” that means the coronal plane.

My Uncorseted Waist

This is a screenshot of me from 2012, around a time where I was not consistently waist training. My natural waist is around 27 inches.

Natural uncorseted waist, 27 inches. I believe I was not consistently waist training around this time, but I was wearing several different corsets for a few hours per week.

It’s well and good to compare different corsets, but keep in mind that I am naturally very wide from the front, but when I turn to the side I practically disappear, so my cross section is very oblong. My oblique muscles might “resist” compression more compared other people, and my lower abdomen is not prone to “pooching” – if I and another woman were to wear the same corset in the same size and stand side-by-side, it might look very slightly different on each of us.

Contour Corset “Summer Mesh” Mid-Hip Underbust

My Contour corset is almost totally flat in the front. This one is 20.5 inches in the waist, laced closed.

Contour Corset, closed waist 20.5 inches (underneath the corset). The cross section of my waist is very close to a circle (and perhaps even a touch wider in the side than the front).
  • In the profile, it makes my body look slightly thicker than it is naturally (while not wearing a corset)
  • In the front view, it looks shockingly nipped in on the sides (this isn’t even my smallest corset!)
  • In the cross section, I might actually be a bit thicker from front to back than I am side to side.

Puimond PY09 “Curvy” Underbust Corset

My Puimond corset is actually half an inch smaller than my Contour corset (it’s 20 inches laced closed), but despite being smaller, it looks less dramatic.

Puimond underbust corset, closed at 20 inches. The cross section of my waist is a bit wider in the front view compared to the profile (very slight ellipse).
  • In the profile, you can see that the front is slightly dished, but in an attractive way, at least for me. It’s nipped in slightly at the front but it doesn’t create a dramatic ski slope at the pelvis. Also notice that I don’t look that thick in the profile.
  • In the front view, the sides are obviously nipped in, but it doesn’t look as dramatic as the first corset.
  • So in this corset, if you looked at the cross section, the distribution of my waist is still slightly ellipse shaped with more of that length being side-to-side rather than front-to-back.
  • This shape is nearly a circle though – probably the closest to a circle compared to any of the other corsets here.

C & S Constructions

Let’s look corset with a more dramatically dished front like the one below from C&S Constructions. This corset is also 20 inches, but I’m wearing it at 21 inches because it wasn’t custom made for my body (the ribs of the corset were a bit too narrow for my own ribcage).

C and S Constructions longline corset worn at 21 inches (under the corset). This has a very dished front – so it is wider in the front view than it is in the profile.
  • In the profile view, the waist is pulled inward, and actually I have a slight forward leaning posture which is interesting. It is a deliberately curved front to make sure that the profile looks slender. (But it also gives a forward leaning posture.)
  • In the front view, the waist is still nipped on the sides, but it’s still wider in this view than it is in the profile view.
  • So the cross section of my waist is still an ellipse, that is wider from side-to-side, just a smaller one.

Sparklewren Cranberry Butterfly Overbust

Let’s look at my Sparklewren overbust, which is closed at 23 inches (so we can see how less of a reduction / a bigger waist may affect the cross section and silhouette).

Sparklewren overbust with a very flat front (laced closed at 23 inches).
  • In the profile view, her corset gives me a very flat front here, in fact possibly slimmer than some of my smaller corsets that are patterned differently.
    I vaguely remember having a conversation with Jenni (Sparklewren) about this probably 5 years ago. She told me that she likes to preserve the flatness in the profile as much as possible, but once the waist is reduced by a certain amount (i.e. under 18 inches in circumference), some dishing in the front may become necessary to achieve further reduction.
  • In the side view, there’s nipping in at the waist but it appears to be very clearly wider than the profile, but it’s still a lovely silhouette.
  • So the cross section is more clearly an ellipse.

Versatile Corsets “Mimosa” Cupped Overbust

The “Mimosa” overbust by Versatile is another corset that gives me a slender profile and flat abdomen. This is a size 22″, but I’m probably wearing at 23.5 or 24 inches here. (It wasn’t a full custom, just the waist measurement and bra size were taken into account).

“Mimosa” cupped overbust made by Versatile Corsets – flat profile and gentle nip in the waistline on the sides (size 22″, with a 1-2 inch lacing gap).
  • The profile view is relatively flat, similar to how my abdomen looks naturally.
  • The front view is a bit more gentle and sweeping – not a super dramatic silhouette, not nipped in sharply at the sides.
  • Obviously the cross section of my waist is more of an ellipse.

All this being said, it’s worth reiterating that this might be subjective for my own body. I naturally have a pretty wide waist, but if I turn to the side my abdomen is very flat. It is more likely that a corset would make me a bit thicker in the profile compared to a different person who has more of a protruding abdomen.

Profile Silhouette in Someone with a Protruding / Hanging Tummy

My aunt, without her corset and with, front view (she wanted a relatively natural silhouette from the front).
My aunt, with her corset and without, profile view (she wanted back support and a flattened tummy).

(Thanks to my aunt for modeling this early custom corset I made for her back in 2012). You may remember my aunt from this tutorial on pulling a hanging tummy up into your corset. She’s had a few children and she’s a more mature woman and has developed a bit of hanging tummy. She asked for a corset to provide back support and to flatten her tummy under her work uniform, but not give a shockingly dramatic waist from the front, which is why it’s not that much of an hourglass. This corset is a size 34″ if I remember correctly; drafted to give her a 6 inch reduction which is about 15% reduction.

  • I specifically used a spoon busk for her, and you can see that this corset makes her slimmer in the profile. Arguably, most of the reduction came off the front instead of the sides of her body.
  • In the front view, it gives a relatively natural looking hourglass from the sides.

If you want to see whether your corset makes you thinner or thicker in the profile view or front view, you can measure this using calipers.

 

If you want a very rigid front (as rigid as possible), you might be interested in adding carbon fibre bones adjacent to the busk – they’re about 24x more stiff than a flat steel bone, and you’ll find these exclusively at Vena Cava Design.

Conversely, if you want your corset to have more of a dished shape, I will make a video next week on how to curve your corset busk to your preference. The process is very similar to curving the back steels.

I hope you found this helpful! Just a note that there is no right or wrong way, some people like the concave dished front, some people like an extremely flat and rigid front. it all depends on your body type, your subjective preferences, your natural posture, and the aesthetic of the corset maker and how they pattern your corset as well.

Leave a comment below telling me whether you prefer the flat front or the dished front better for your own corsets. If you have any question regarding the “flatness” or “dishiness” of any other corset in my collection, as well as the rigidity of the busk, the posture it gives, etc., feel free to ask.

Posted on 2 Comments

Did Victorian Women Break In Their Corsets?

 

Many moons ago, one of my Tumblr followers asked: “Did people season their corsets in the 19th century?”

Short answer:

Not really. But they molded to the body much faster than many corsets made today, and some corsets came out of the factory already seasoned, in a sense.

Long answer:

Victorian corsets were usually single layer and molded quickly to the body

The vast majority of corsets in the 1800s were utilitarian, daily pieces – often a single layer of cotton, with lap seams that were either wide enough to hold a bone, and/or separate channels that were sewn on externally or internally. I have tried some single layer corsets and MANY multiple layer corsets, and single layer corsets always mold to the body faster and season very quickly. If you’ve ever had a mockup fitting, think of how well the single-layer mockup fits you, and how much heavier and stiffer the final corset feels in comparison, even with the same or similar measurements.

I also own some single layer corsets – some homemade, some factory samples, and some that were deliberately commissioned as a single layer like my Bizarre Design corset, and they have all felt fairly broken in after only 1 day.


Victorian corsets had a different construction (and shorter stitches)

In the case of those single-layer homemade mockups or samples that I’ve worn for extended amounts of time, they also started falling apart faster too, mostly at the seams. But why wasn’t this the case in Victorian corsets?

I remember at the Symington museum collections where they have dozens of antique corsets from the 19th century you can touch and study – there were hand-written factory specs of many corsets, but one of them in particular caught my eye because this one said that it was sewn with a stitch length of 26 stitches to the inch (the stitches were less than 1mm long!).

Check out the teeny tiny stitch length on this antique corset, as compared to the busk knobs or my thumb – even in “non tension bearing” seams like the quilting or boning channels!
(From the Symington Collection: Leicestershire County Council Museum Service)

Compared that to an OTR corset today, which has about 8.5-9 stitches per inch. (Of course, thread quality strength matters too, not just stitch length.) With a shorter stitch length, there is less “sliding and redistribution of the threads so you get less of a shear force. And with lap seams, flat felled seams, or seams straddled by a boning channel, these types of seams put much less stress on the thread compared to, say, the sandwich method that is popular today.


Whalebone (baleen) molded to the body with body heat and perspiration

Remember that prior to steel, the corsets contained whalebone which were thinner, lighter and – when exposed to warmth and moisture – the baleen became very malleable and could be bent in pretty much any direction. So when the corset is put on, the warmth and perspiration from the body would soften the corset more – and when the corset was removed, the bones would get the chance to cool and dry out, but could retain the shape of its wearer.

Steel bones do not have these same properties, especially some of the cheaper, rigid, less-comfortable flat steel bones often found in budget OTR corsets.


Side note: Second-hand / hand-me-down corsets were more common than you think!

Anthropologist Rebecca Gibson has studied the skeletons of impoverished French women from the 1800s and she said that it wasn’t uncommon for corsets to be be passed down from mother to daughter, or from mistress to maid – hand-me-downs and 2nd-hand purchases were a thing in the 19th century! So in that sense, the corset was already very much seasoned, but Gibson’s research also showed that just because they were seasoned doesn’t necessarily mean that they fit well – because the corset might not have matched their measurements.


Some corsets were steamed and “pre-seasoned” before being sold

After the industrial revolution in the 1830s, some factories actually steam molded their corsets which is kind of like rapid seasoning before it ever sees a body. Here’s one example from the V&A museum:

1887 steamed and molded wedding corset, Edwin Izod. Courtesy of the V&A Museum, London, UK. Click through for more info.

Quote from this page:

To improve shape, performance and comfort, manufacturers claimed numerous inventions. One of the most successful was the steam-moulding process developed by Edwin Izod in 1868, and still used in the 1880s to create elegant corsets such as this one. The procedure involved placing a corset, wet with starch, on a steam-heated copper torso form until it dried into shape. The result was a beautifully formed corset, whereby ‘the fabric and bones are adapted with marvellous accuracy to every curve and undulation of the finest type of figure’ (The Ladies’ Gazette of Fashion advertisement, London July 1879).

 


Victorians were accustomed to restrictive, non-stretch clothing

Almost all clothing today contain at least a small amount of spandex/lycra for comfort and positive ease. With the exceptions, say if someone puts on a nice work suit with no stretch they think it’s confining enough – imagine when they put on a corset for the first time and they’re introduced to the concept of negative ease! I’ve found that when someone is new to wearing corsets, they have a much more positive association with it if they only wear a corset gently for a small amount of time and build up from there (as opposed to taking 6 inches off their waist immediately and wearing it like that for 12 hours). As Ann Grogan of Romantasy says, “You wouldn’t put on a pair of 6-inch stilettos and run the Boston Marathon, would you?”

Soft children’s corded stays, for no waist reduction – fastened by buttons in front, and contains no bones (not even baleen). (From the Symington Collection: Leicestershire County Council Museum Service)

For this reason, I consider the seasoning process as important for a novice’s body, or probably more important for the body, than it is for the corset.

Victorians, on the other hand, had no stretch in their clothing per se (although pleats and gathers do what they can), and wore stays from childhood. Now, these stays wouldn’t take much (if anything) off their waist, they were corded stays and fastened with buttons instead of laces – but they would be quite snug and be close to fitting their natural waist measurement – such that their waist circumference was probably held more or less constant even as the rest of their body grew.


Tightlacing was less common; light reductions were more the norm

Props to Alexa for pointing this out: Most Victorian women didn’t tightlace, but rather their corsets were worn more for support (bust support and back support), supporting the heavy skirts, and perhaps gentle cinching. So even when worn daily, their wear might not be as rigorous as someone who laces down 6-8 inches and wears it 23/7 today.

This one study from the Victorian era mentions that corsets were typically laced with a reduction of 1.5 to 4.5 inches, with the average being just 2.5 inch reduction from the natural waist (26.5 inch natural waist, and 24 inch corseted waist). When you consider that a reduction of 2-3 inches is recommended during the modern seasoning process, it’s really not all that different from how many Victorians wore their corsets all the time.


How long was a corset supposed to last, anyway?

This antique corset was guaranteed to not break for 12 months! This implies that other brands or makes may not have lasted that long with daily wear.
(From the Symington Collection: Leicestershire County Council Museum Service)

Another thing to consider is how long a typical corset lasted back then. Some corsets boasted that they’re guaranteed to last 12 months, which implies that many other corsets didn’t last that long (but, as we know from Gibson’s research, hand-me-downs were not uncommon so they probably got a few years of use, and they mended and repaired where they could).

Some Victorian women may have bought a new corset every few years or up to multiple times in a year, depending on the family’s wealth, the quality of the corset, and the amount of wear and tear on the corset from the woman’s activities. But they would likely find it unreasonable to expect a corset to last 5-10 years or up to a lifetime, the way that some people consider modern corsets to last.

So although Victorians didn’t having a seasoning regimen the way it’s been popularized today, their corsets were very different to modern corsets. Today, corsets come out of the factories fairly flat, and often contain multiple layers of fabric (often a mix of fibers too, like polyester). They’re decidedly crunchy due to the starch and sizing, and they contain almost exclusively steel bones (which don’t change properties when exposed to body heat), AND also consider the fact that that people today are not used to wearing restraining clothing.

I hope this answered the question as to why seasoning was probably not done during the Victorian era, but was also likely not required.

If you have any comments or questions on the matter, leave a comment below!

Posted on Leave a comment

Corsets and Riding a Bike / Motorcycle

Welcome to another Fast Foundation Friday! Today we will explore the question of whether you’re able to ride a bicycle / motorcycle while wearing a corset.

While I don’t own a motorcycle or a bike (so I can’t give you a live demo unfortunately), I do however know a few corset wearers who do ride bikes or motorcycles. The have informed me that the corset works on a bike similarly to how corsets helped cavaliers on their horses in the 19th century: the corset helps correct posture while on the motorbike, it can act like a kidney belt to prevent organ jiggling especially over gravel, and it can provide another layer of proprioceptive feedback (telling you when you’re leaning and when you’re straight).

One acquaintance who rides motorcycles, Deanna, contributed to my Solaced book. Hers is the first story of the Back Injuries chapter, you can read her story for free if you go to Amazon and read the kindle sample. In her testimony, she mentioned that she had wiped out on her motorcycle twice – once before discovering corsets (and wearing a corset helped in back recovery) and quite a bit later, she had an accident again – this time while wearing her corset. The second time she had an accident, she said she had injured almost every part of her body except where her corset covered (armor indeed!).

“Love Will Find a Wheel” by Sarah Chrisman – a story about Victorian Biking Clubs. Image courtesy of Amazon.

Regarding bicycles, there are many accounts of corset wearers biking while in a corset. The first person that comes to mind is Sarah Chrisman, author of Victorian Secrets. She is a lifestyle corset wearer and has many pictures of herself on a bike as well as many resources from the Victorian era regarding bicycling.

For those who are looking for some advice regarding how to start riding your bike while in a corset – some common sense tips include getting used to riding your bike without the corset, and getting accustomed to wearing your corset before jumping on a bike. Learn how to breathe, bend and move in a corset before your first bike trip, and learn your bike paths and figure out how much you’ll be exerting yourself.

While on your bike, in your corset, pace yourself so you don’t get too winded e.g. when going up hills, and don’t be afraid to stop and loosen the corset if you feel the need to. I will always say safety first on the road, so if a corset prevents you from turning properly to check any blind spots behind you (regardless of the vehicle) then you may want to consider going without the corset – take it in your bag and put the corset on when you get to your destination.

Do you have any other ideas or questions you want answered in future Fast Foundation videos? Leave a comment below!

Posted on 6 Comments

Corsets and the Victorian Fainting Culture

In a previous article, we discussed how feeling faint or light headed is caused by the brain not being properly oxygenated – but contrary to popular belief, most of the fainting done by people in corsets was not due to suffocation. Most genuine fainting was said to be rather due to abrupt changes in blood pressure. (This is just one of many reasons why it’s important to lace down gradually; tying your corset too tight, too quickly can cause acute changes in blood pressure and make you feel lightheaded.)

Today we’re not going to focus on blood pressure per se, but we’re going to specifically touch on the “Victorian fainting culture” – what do I mean by that? Well, have you ever wondered why there are so many stories of fainting during the Victorian era, and why the “swooning Southern Belle” is depicted so often in period movies? Have you ever wondered why people claim that the Victorians invented the fainting couch solely for this reason? Let’s analyze a few different reasons why upper class Victorian women could have fainted:

Shortness of Breath (from possible overexertion)

I’m not denying that some women could have genuinely fainted from shortness of breath, but this scenario was likely far less common than some individuals claim. Someone could feel woozy if they were laced more tightly than they’re accustomed to, for a special occasion (like a party or ball). It wasn’t out of the ordinary for a woman of wealth to own more than one corset, and sometimes her formal corset would be slightly smaller than her day corset to give a more dramatic or impressive silhouette (I should add that I don’t personally consider it responsible to tightlace past the point of discomfort/pain; nevertheless, other people do go the extra inch for a special event). Add an evening of more exertion than usual (like hours of dancing) and dehydration on top of that, and it would not be outside of the realm of possibility that a woman would faint.

Overheating

Let’s not rule out the possibility that women may have fainted from simply overheating. Consider the Full Monty of undergarments: a chemise under the corset, bloomers, the corset itself, a corset cover, possibly a hoopskirt, several petticoats, and then over that would be a blouse, an overskirt, possibly a jacket, train for the skirt, and perhaps a little hat or bonnet on top of your head. Clothing can exceed 20 lbs at times, and there would be around 4 layers of clothing between your skin and the air – which, even if made from the lightest linens and using the thinnest corset, would still add up in weight and insulation. If you could imagine wearing all this in the middle of summer in Texas or Georgia (since the media love to depict Victorian ladies as specifically Southern Belles), and air conditioning won’t be invented for another 100 years, it’s safe to say that you may feel considerably overheated – and this can lead to fainting and heat stroke.

Dehydration

It is so very easy to become dehydrated. Even today, some sources state that 75% of North Americans are chronically dehydrated – we do not drink enough water or eat enough hydrating foods. Corsets are able to exacerbate symptoms that you would not normally notice when you’re uncorseted – i.e. while corsets are not to blame for our chronic dehydration, wearing a corset may make you more aware of your body, and you may feel dehydrated faster and with more intensity than if you were uncorseted. When I started corseting on a regular basis, I noticed that I felt thirstier than usual. When I started setting alarms for myself to drink 2-3 liters of water each day, I started feeling much better both in and out of the corset. Fran Blanche of Contour Corsets has written about blood volume, dehydration and corseting on her blog here.

The scenarios already mentioned above (overheating, overexertion etc.) can lead to further dehydration, which may cause fainting much faster or more frequently in an already chronically dehydrated person. Staying hydrated is so very important if you choose to wear a corset.

Shock/ surprise

Yes, fainting from shock does happen. I have two stories where I’ve almost fainted in my life, and neither of them involve corsets: I remember being about 6-7 years old, trying to make a paper palm tree, and I accidentally stapled my thumb. I took one look at my thumb and I remember developing tunnel vision and ringing in my ears (classic vasovagal response). According to those around me, my face went pale and my lips turned blue. I never lost consciousness, but I do remember instinctively lying down quickly. A similar thing happened the very first time I put in contact lenses. Fainting from shock, with or without corsets, is a real possibility.

But would Victorian women be so sheltered as to faint at the slightest bad news? It likely depended on the individual’s temperament, and also their family’s status. The very high class were probably not exposed to the blood and gore like those living on a farm, nevermind being desensitized to shocking news and images and media the way we are today. News came from newspapers, magazines and word of mouth. Public executions were not done everywhere, and likely not attended by all people. It’s therefore not hard consider that if a sheltered person were see or hear something out of the ordinary (something appalling or grotesque) they may have reacted somewhat more dramatically and could very well have even fainted – whether intentionally or unintentionally, which leads us to the last point…

Mock Fainting (or what I like to call “Feign-ting”)

Many Victorian women were probably taught to pretend to faint in uncomfortable situations. Remember that it was unbecoming for a proper lady to throw a hissy fit (lest she be diagnosed with “hysteria” and hauled away). What’s a woman to do when she:

  • wants to quickly become the center of attention at a party?
  • sees someone annoying and wants to avoid talking to them?
  • is angry about certain circumstances but society doesn’t allow her to throw a temper tantrum?
  • (And as one viewer mentioned in a recent comment:) needs to escape to the toilet but doesn’t want to announce something so unbecoming?

The answer to all of these? She faints. Or feigns fainting, in any case. Fainting was said to be one of few ways to abruptly change a subject or leave a room while still saving face and being considered a lady. “Fainting culture” indeed!

What about all those fainting couches?

“Chaise longue in a 4th-century Roman manuscript” (Wikipedia commons)

Many people will claim that the Chaise Longue was invented in the Victorian era – in reality, they existed in Egypt and Greece at least 2000 years prior, and possibly as far back as the 8th century BCE. Unfortunately, taking a millennia-old piece of furniture and reinventing it as a strictly Victorian “fainting couch” (and treating their invention as a direct response to the corset) did nothing more than glorify and perpetuate the fainting culture and help Victorian women look fabulous while they were (pretending to be) unconscious.

While fainting in a corset is not impossible, there is much more to the wilting Victorian lady than what we’re usually taught. It’s worth noting that while many people faint for many reasons, it is NEVER “normal” to feel faint whether in or out of a corset. If you faint on a regular basis or for unexplained reasons, always see your doctor.

But there is a big difference between genuinely feeling lightheaded vs feign-ting for the “fun of it” – and I would prefer that the perpetuation of the swooning corset-wearer stereotype would stop today. So the next time you’re at a Renfaire or convention and you see someone at the corset vendor’s kiosk, melodramatically swooning and pretending to fall over for the “fun of it”, be sure to let them know that their melodramatic performance is hardly an original act.

Please note that this article is provided for information purposes, and is not intended to replace the advice of a medical professional. Please contact your trusted physician if you plan to wear a corset for any reason.

Posted on 4 Comments

Isabella Corsetry Victorian Underbust Review

This entry is a summary of the review video “Isabella Corsetry Victorian Underbust Review” which you can watch on YouTube here:

Fit, length Center front is about 11.5 inches high, and from underbust to lap is 9 inches, center back is 12.5 inches. Slightly wasp-waist silhouette (conical ribcage). Waist is 22″, top edge (underbust) is 29″, iliac crest is 31″. There is a discrepancy between the proportions of this corset vs. my Josephine corset from Isabella. The photo of the Victorian underbust on Isabella’s website does not do the corset justice!
Material 3 main layers: Outer layer is black polyester satin, cotton interlining, lining is cotton twill (with a pinstripe pattern).
Construction 6 panel pattern, panels assembled using the sandwich method and double-boned on the seams, sandwiched between two layers.
Binding Bias tape is a matching black satin; machine stitched on the inside and outside.
Waist tape 1 inch wide invisible waist tape – sandwiched between the layers.
Modesty panel 7 inch wide unstiffened modesty panel attached to one side. No modesty placket
Busk 10 inch long, heavy duty busk (1″ wide on each side), 5 pins equidistantly spaced.
Boning 22 bones, mostly double-boned on the seams except for the one seam adjacent to the grommet panel. Side bones are 1/4″ wide spirals, and there are two flats sandwiching the grommets.
Grommets 30 two-part grommets, size #00, medium flange, quite sturdy. Finished in black (a nice touch). Set a little closer together at the waistline. Large washers on the underside, a few splits in the back but they don’t catch the laces and the grommets aren’t pulling out so it’s not a problem.
Laces Laces are 1/8″ wide round nylon cord, rather slippery and annoying but it’s easy to replace. (My Josephine corset had come with ribbon though which was fine.)
Price At the time I’m writing this, the Victorian underbust in the Immediate line is $175 normally, $230 for made-to-order (standard sized but custom fabric), and $350 for both made-to-measure and custom fabric.
The updated photo of the black satin Victorian underbust looks to be slightly more accurate to the one I reviewed!

Other Thoughts:

I was quite excited about reviewing this Victorian corset, as it had been over 3 years since I purchased the Josephine corset from Isabella Corsetry and I wanted to see if there were any tweaks or improvements to her construction. Although it seemed as though the pattern between the Victorian and the Josephine looked extremely similar (save for the 2nd panel), the fit of this corset is actually quite different on me – this corset is cut for less curves, and the ribcage is more straight and conical compared to the Josephine. While this corset is size 22″, and the underbust is 29″ and hips are 31″; my 3-year-old standard sized Josephine is a size 20″ but has a ribcage of about 30″ and a low hip of over 35″. So perhaps they’re not quite that similar after all?

Talking with some other people who have purchased the Josephine underbust more recently, they have told me that their versions are far less curvy than the piece I own. It seems as though the sizing is inconsistent from style to style of these corsets, and even from corset to corset in the Josephine pieces! But for those who are curious, it is said that the average “spring” drafted for is somewhere in the range of 7″ bigger in the underbust, and 11″ bigger in the hips compared to the waist size.

Sizing issues aside, I am in love with the strong and smooth construction of this corset. Satin is notoriously difficult to work with and make it lie flat and smooth, but Isabella Corsetry does this with the highest skill. And while I can’t cinch down as far as usual in this little piece, it does give me a lovely silhouette.

For those interested in seeing the Victorian underbust in the Immediate Line (the cheapest line where the corsets are standard sized and have fixed colors/ fabrics, visit Isabella’s shop here.

Posted on 3 Comments

“The Corset Diaries” Book Overview

This written version is essentially a transcript of my video review of the same book, which you can see here if you’re not the type to like to read (but note that if you don’t want to read a review, why would you read an entire novel?)

Please note that both the review and the video DOES contain spoilers, so don’t say I didn’t warn you.

Continue reading “The Corset Diaries” Book Overview

Posted on 11 Comments

“Victorian Secrets: What a Corset Taught Me about the Past, the Present, and Myself” by Sarah A. Chrisman — an Overview

I admit it. I’m terrible at book reviews. So many years of working in biology labs have conditioned me to treat every publication the same way: study, jot notes, report results relevant to my own research. Opinions are frowned upon by the Board. (At least I got to sneak in some alliteration.)

My video review, despite being 13 minutes long, feels painfully short and superficial. In reality, the raw footage of the review was over an hour long, wherein I combined Chrisman’s research and experiences with my own and discussed possible (soft) conclusions to certain questions regarding physical, psychological and societal impacts of wearing a corset. Alas, most people these days don’t have 13 minutes to spare, nevermind an hour.

This book used to be called “Waisted Curves: My Transformation into a Victorian Lady” and was self-published and hand-made – Chrisman carefully hand-folds each page, sews them together, and binds the cover in your choice of cloth, silk or leather — the way that books were made in the Victorian era. Due to the print or weave on the cover fabric, no two books are exactly the same. You kind of feel the love and the labour emanating from this. The price of this book, $40 for cloth-bound and $49 for either silk or leatherbound, is well-justified just by how much work must have gone into assembling the book itself — but the contents inside are worth much more.

Now the book has been picked up by a publisher, it has changed its name to “Victorian Secrets: What a Corset Taught Me about the Past, the Present, and Myself” and is available on Amazon.

The book is essentially a memoir of Chrisman’s first year (and a few months extra) of corset training – in this time, her waist is reduced from 32” uncorseted to 22” corseted – she changes the way she carries herself, and her style of dress so that essentially she is transformed into a “Victorian lady” by the end of the book. If this book were made into a movie trailer, I have a feeling that it would look like a typical “transformation” or “make0ver” movie (e.g. Clueless, She’s All That, Teen Witch, Princess Diaries, etc). Let me tell you now that those movies are garbage compared to this book. “Waisted Curves…” is a non-fiction, first-hand account of what it’s really like to make such a transformation (not only in appearance but also in health, grace and building one’s knowledge) – it’s not an overnight change, and it’s not without its challenges.

A not-so-brief summary of events (SPOILER ALERT)

Posted on 3 Comments

Morgana Femme Couture MF1331 Corset Review

This entry is a summary of the review video “Morgana Femme Couture Longline Teal Silk Corset Review” which you can watch on YouTube here:

Fit, length Front is about 13.5″ inches long, traditional hourglass silhouette with conical ribcage. Longline corset, recommended for tall or long-waisted ladies. Very comfortable in the hip area. Will hold in lower tummy pooch, recommended for pear-shaped ladies.
Material 3 layers; fashion layer is silk dupioni, interlining is 100% English cotton coutil, lining of cotton twill. Boning channels are satin coutil.
Construction 6 panel pattern. Lock-stitching between panels – external boning channels strengthen seams. Floating liner (very comfortable). Also has 6 garter tabs.
Binding Black satin coutil bias tape neatly machine stitched on both inside and outside.
Waist tape 1″ wide invisible waist tape within the layers, secured down at boning channels.
Modesty panel None in back; unboned placket under busk.
Busk Standard flexible busk (1/2″ wide on each side) about 12.5″ long (6 pins), backed with a 1/4″ wide flat bone on each side.
Boning 24 steel bones not including busk. On each side, 9 spirals (1/4″ wide) in external channels, 2 flats (1/4″ wide) sandwiching the grommets and an additional flat steel by the busk.
Grommets 30 grommets total, size #0 two-part grommets with moderate flange; set equidistantly, no splits, no wear/fraying/pulling out of grommets. I love these grommets!
Laces Strong 1/4″ wide nylon braided shoe-lace style laces; they’re thin, they grip well and they are long enough. No spring to the lace.
Price Currently $230 USD on their Etsy store (standard size, ready-to-wear) or $290-$350 USD on the MFC website (made-to-measure and custom colours, price depends on the size).

Final Thoughts:

I was very pleasantly surprised by this corset. For a standard size corset, the hip spring is amazing and my ribs are beautifully tapered yet not too “scary” looking. This corset is the first time I have been able to close a 22″ off-the-rack corset all the way (previous styles have either been too restrictive in the hips or the ribcage to do so).
I’m also quite impressed with the quality of the materials in this corset. The dupioni silk fashion layer, English herringbone coutil strength layer, satin coutil boning channels and cotton lining look and feel strong yet luxurious. Once you go quality, you kind of don’t want to go back.
I found the price to be reasonable (at $230 it’s not much more than some other off-the-rack corsets, and actually less than certain other brands). The custom price is also justifiable, however I am curious to know where the corsets are actually manufactured. The one turn-off I have is the price markup for the 4 largest waist sizes (27″ – 30″). Yes, larger sizes do require more material but – with all due respect – having to pay nearly $60 more just because of a few more inches seems a little unfair. Perhaps I’m shooting myself in the foot (especially since I belong in the “smaller” group), but there must be some way to budget for the extra fabric used in larger sizes – even if this means marking up the smaller ones slightly.
Apart from that one small bug, I am thoroughly impressed with this corset – the materials and the construction are top notch for an off the rack piece.
To see this corset and other styles provided by Morgana Femme Couture, visit their website here. To see their selection of off-the-rack corsets, see their Etsy shop here.

Posted on 8 Comments

Gallery Serpentine Victorian Underbust Review

This entry is a summary of the review video “Gallery Serpentine Victorian Underbust Review”. If you would like more complete information and side notes about the corset, you can watch the video on YouTube here:

Fit, length Victorian Hourglass shape, nice moderate curves. Center front is 13”. Stops just at the upper hips, it is not longline. One “pro” is the unique feature of how low the corset stops on the back, it curves nicely over the top of the bum instead of cutting into it. One “con” is how distended my torso looks in profile.
Material 3 main layers – the outer satin, a thick cotton non-woven interfacting as interlining, and black twill lining.
Construction Made from a 4-panel pattern. The satin and the heavy interlining are either flat-felled or fused together (depending on whether the interfacing was fusible or not), then those panels are topstitched at the seams. Bones are placed either in the seam allowances between the panels, or internal channels are made with twill tape.
Binding Binding at top and bottom are made from black satin bias tape. Folded under nicely on the outside; on the inside the raw edge is serged to prevent fraying and just stitched down flat.
Waist tape None.
Modesty panel None. To get a modesty panel costs another $15 from the website.
Busk Standard busk (flexible), half an inch wide and 12” long, and 6 pins.
Boning 12 bones total in this corset, 6 on each side. All of them are plastic. These are heavier-duty polypropeline bones but I would still prefer steel. To get the steel bone upgrade costs another $15 from the website.
Grommets There are 18 2-part size #0 grommets (9 on each side) and have a medium flange. They’re spaced 1.5” apart on the top and bottom and are spaced closer together (1” apart) at the waist for better cinching control. Grommets are very sturdy, no popping out, no fraying. However I would have preferred to have 10 more grommets because lacing down is difficult on the top and bottom. On the underside there are no splits; they’re nicely set.
Laces The laces I received with this corset are reportedly not the original laces. The laces I got are 1/4″ wide single faced satin ribbon, quite slippery and difficult to grip. The laces that I have read now come with the corset are black shoelace-style laces.
Price Currently $190 (AUD) for basic fabric and standard sizes. $210 for made-to-measure, and add $10 more for Asian brocade fabrics. Note that steel bones/modesty panel also cost extra.

Final Thoughts:
This… was not my favourite style. A lot of people noticed that my review was blasé. Perhaps my review would have been more fair if I had spent some extra funds to get a made-to-measure item with steel bones, but for financial reasons and accessibility, this was the right option at the time. I doubt I would buy from them again, but I guess I should never say never. Many of their happier customers have contacted me to say that their corsets are much more flattering, better constructed and include things like a modesty panel, so perhaps there are several makers for that company and there are inconsistencies between their products. I will give them the benefit of the doubt, however this one simply did not go well with my body type and looked unflattering on me. I ended up altering this corset by adding steel bones and a modesty panel.